Started by WorldForgot, February 20, 2021, 11:02:15 AM
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QuoteA Rant About "Technology" (c.2004)In an interesting and favorable notice of Changing Planes (which you can find elsewhere on the site, in Spanish and English), the Argentinean reviewer asserts that since Le Guin isn't a hard science fiction writer, "technology is carefully avoided." I stuck a footnote onto this in my translation of the article, and here is the footnote expanded — because this business is really getting my goat.'Hard' sf is all about technology, and 'soft' sf doesn't have any technology, right? And my books don't have technology in them, because I am only interested in psychology and emotions and squashy stuff like that, right?Not right. How can genuine science fiction of any kind lack technological content? Even if its principal interest isn't in engineering or how machines work — if like most of mine, it's more interested in how minds, societies, and cultures work — still, how can anybody make a story about a future or an alien culture without describing, implicitly or explicitly, its technology?Nobody can. I can't imagine why they'd want to.Its technology is how a society copes with physical reality: how people get and keep and cook food, how they clothe themselves, what their power sources are (animal? human? water? wind? electricity? other?) what they build with and what they build, their medicine - and so on and on. Perhaps very ethereal people aren't interested in these mundane, bodily matters, but I'm fascinated by them, and I think most of my readers are too.Technology is the active human interface with the material world.But the word is consistently misused to mean only the enormously complex and specialised technologies of the past few decades, supported by massive exploitation both of natural and human resources.This is not an acceptable use of the word. "Technology" and "hi tech" are not synonymous, and a technology that isn't "hi," isn't necessarily "low" in any meaningful sense.We have been so desensitized by a hundred and fifty years of ceaselessly expanding technical prowess that we think nothing less complex and showy than a computer or a jet bomber deserves to be called "technology " at all. As if linen were the same thing as flax — as if paper, ink, wheels, knives, clocks, chairs, aspirin pills, were natural objects, born with us like our teeth and fingers -- as if steel saucepans with copper bottoms and fleece vests spun from recycled glass grew on trees, and we just picked them when they were ripe...One way to illustrate that most technologies are, in fact, pretty "hi," is to ask yourself of any manmade object, Do I know how to make one?Anybody who ever lighted a fire without matches has probably gained some proper respect for "low" or "primitive" or "simple" technologies; anybody who ever lighted a fire with matches should have the wits to respect that notable hi-tech invention.I don't know how to build and power a refrigerator, or program a computer, but I don't know how to make a fishhook or a pair of shoes, either. I could learn. We all can learn. That's the neat thing about technologies. They're what we can learn to do.And all science fiction is, in one way or another, technological. Even when it's written by people who don't know what the word means.All the same, I agree with my reviewer that I don't write hard science fiction. Maybe I write easy science fiction. Or maybe the hard stuff's inside, hidden — like bones, as opposed to an exoskeleton....
QuoteCrowsCrows are the color of anarchyand close up they're a little scary.An eye as bright as anything.Having a pet crow would belike having Voltaire on a string.Learning the Namefor BetteThe wood thrush, it is! Now I knowwho sings that clear arpeggio,three far notes weavinginto the eveningamong leaves and shadow;or at dawn in the woods, I've heardthe sweet ascending triple wordechoing overthe silent river —but never seen the bird.IntimationsWhy is it I want to cry?Crow, crow, tell me.There is a shadow passing by.The willows call me.Why would an old woman weep?Willow, tell me, willow.Crows went flying through my sleep.I cry and follow.Every Land(From a saying of Black Elk)Watch where the branches of the willows bendSee where the waters of the rivers tendGraves in the rock, cradles in the sandEvery land is the holy landHere was the battle to the bitter endHere's where the enemy killed the friendBlood on the rock, tears on the sandEvery land is the holy landWillow by the water bending in the windBent till it's broken and it will not standListen to the word the messengers sendLife like the broken rock, death like the sandEvery land is the holy land
QuoteI got a Master's degree so I could study eugenics and spend more time with a dead man and the dead man is Lovecraft.I didn't grow up thinking this would happen. I've never fancied myself a scholar or envied the professor's life. I also had a full-time job when I began tinkering with the idea of getting a Master's degree in Science and Technology Studies. I wanted the degree because of my longtime interest in both science and history. I also thought it might be useful as general background for the kind of work I do. And it just seemed fun. I like taking classes. However, Master's degrees are not really geared towards adult learners and I wasn't going to quit my job, so I cautiously asked if they'd take me as a part-time student. They said yes. I enrolled.I had to take fewer classes than my cohort and it would be longer for me to graduate. Also, everyone was much, much younger than me. I felt embarrassed the first day I walked into class carrying a notebook and everyone had a Mac. The younger students seemed much better prepared than me, throwing out names like "Latour" and "Haraway" while I kept going "what who where."A university education is not only about an academic formation, it's a lesson in social class. The first time around, when I got my bachelor's degree in Communications, I did it with two scholarships and on-campus work, the only way I, a kid from Mexico who was nowhere near super wealthy, could ever afford to accomplish such a thing. Life on a college in New England was a bit of a shock, but it was doable and I graduated Magna Cum Laude.When I started at the University of British Columbia in my MA I felt like a complete idiot. Everyone knew how to write a grad school paper, how to research, what books to read and what philosophers and historians to quote. I'd attended a small college and this seemed a far distance from a large Canadian university. I cried the first week of class and told my husband I was obviously a fool. Even though I actually work for UBC, I don't do anything in an academic capacity so I didn't know what the inside of a classroom was like. Boy, did I know now.I was also worried about my topic of studies. As Wikipedia states, STS is the "is the study of how social, political, and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture." My interest was in history of science. But my other interest was science fiction, which is still the kind of thing many people think is not worthy of their time. I couldn't figure how I would tie these interests together, although that was my impulse.Lovecraft did the trick. I've also had a long-time interest in H.P. Lovecraft, but not in a scholarly way. I've edited and written things that are called "Lovecraftian" and know a bunch of folks in the "community." Lovecraft was an amateur scientists and several of his stories reflect scientific concerns of the time.I decided I would focus on eugenics, the "science of better breeding" and its ties to Lovecraft's work. Eugenics these days is mostly associated with Nazis, but it was a widespread scientific pursuit in the early 20th century. The United States boasted an Eugenics Record Office and passed eugenics laws which mandated compulsory sterilization for the "unfit" (a whole variety of traits could characterize a person as being unfit, from medical conditions such as hemophilia to simply being poor), but other countries also developed eugenic programs.Eugenics was a widespread and multi-faceted effort. It also went on longer than most people imagine, into the 1960s. And it seeped into popular culture in ways we don't think about. There were baby contents to select the fittest children. There were exhibits and lectures, and the YMCA and YWCA sponsored talks on "Home Making and Eugenics." In 41 textbooks published in the United States from 1914 to 1948, almost 90% tackled eugenics and 70% considered it a legitimate science.As mentioned before, eugenics helped push sterilization laws. It also created immigration reforms: the Immigration Act of 1924 barred certain groups (such as Arabs and Asians) from entering the United States. And flawed studies were developed to help demonstrate the inferiority of certain groups and the natural superiority of others.Eugenics was about race, it was about class, it was about disability, and eventually I discovered, it was about gender. I did not intend to focus on women but that's where my reading led me. Although I thought I had some understanding of this time period, I was surprised by the biological notions of the 1920s and 30s and the way the intersected with portrayals of women. The natural criminal condition of a woman, a text told me, is "harlotry." I read columns from Ladies' Home Journal where eugenicist Paul Popenoe offered marriage advice. Popenoe believed it was crucial that the "right kind of people" marry and have children. And so on and so forth.There were things I expected to find in Lovecraft, such as racial concerns tied to biological notions, but there too lay surprises. For example, when re-reading "The Dunwich Horror" I realized Lavinia gives birth to a "black brat" who turns out to be a monster.When I thought about the modern culture I inhabit, I found traces of eugenic thought. It was a strange process, full of nasty finds and imagery. Sometimes, there were fun parts: at one point I stumbled upon a beefcake photo of a half-naked man blond man next to a chicken. The farming industry intersected with issues of eugenics at several points (like in the development of county fairs to show off the "fittest" families), so it makes sense that the best chicken would be compared to the best man, but it was still an odd find. I also figured out that the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, which is known for its rides and the ability to eat any food in fried form (ice cream, chocolate bars and more), once housed eugenics contests.I graduated this summer. My thesis "Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the Work of H.P. Lovecraft" can be read online.My advisor said that now that I have concluded my studies I have "broken up" with my creepy boyfriend, an allusion to Lovecraft, since at one point I told her due to the constant exposure to his letters and stories, I felt like I was almost in a long-distance relationship with a deceased man.I don't know if I can "break up" so easily from my interest in history of science and the biological sciences. As I said goodbye to my advisor she mentioned she was teaching a class on science fiction this term and asked if I had any short stories I would recommend in her historical overview. I piped up and said that "Strange Orchids," a hard-to-find story by Dorothy Quick originally printed in 1937, has been reprinted in Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction this year. I also mentioned how I was in interested in science fiction which deals with women's bodies and reproduction."Maybe that'll be your PhD," my advisor told me.Donna Haraway's latest book (Staying with the Trouble, published September 2016) states in its description that the noted STS scholar "eschews referring to our current epoch as the Anthropocene, preferring to conceptualize it as what she calls the Chthulucene, as it more aptly and fully describes our epoch as one in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked in tentacular practices."Maybe I was a visionary with this whole STS and serious university scholar and science fiction stuff. Maybe my advisor wasn't so wrong about the PhD.Oh, God. I hope I don't seriously start going there.